By OLASUNKANMI AKONI & BENJAMIN NJOKU
Ejigbo, one of the Local Council Development Areas, LCDA, created during the administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been a haven of peace until December, last year when Women Arise for Change Initiative, a human rights group, led by its President, Dr. Joel Odumakin decided to take the bull by the horn, demanding for justice against an inhuman treatment meted to two women residing in the area.
The human rights group had gone to the Lagos State House of Assembly to protest as well as submit a petition on the alleged ‘inhuman assault’ on the two women which otherwise would have been swept under the carpet.
Interestingly though, after the awareness protest, public anger and condemnation heightened following the act. With nearly a year after the crime was committed, the incident has remained fresh in the people’s memory.
It would be recalled that some wicked men who masqueraded as members of the vigilante group engaged to secure the Ejigbo market allegedly tortured and sodomized three women for stealing pepper last February. For the insistence of the human rights group, who brought the crime to the public domain, the culprits would have gone unpunished, and the crime swept under the carpet.
When the Lagos State lawmakers watched a video clip of the incident played on a mobile phone which ran for about eight minutes, showing how the women were being tortured and pepper applied into their genitals over alleged stealing of pepper, the reaction was unimaginable.
A woman, her daughter and her step-daughter were alleged to have gone to a pepper shop at Central Market, Iyana Ejigbo in the night and stole some quantity of pepper before they were caught by a group of vigilante people who descended on them.
It was later gathered that one of the women died from injuries sustained from the torture.
The human rights group based its claim on the 1999 Constitution as amended; in Chapter 4, section 34, which states clearly that “every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and accordingly, no person should be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment”.
Consequently, the House led by the Speaker, Rt Hon Adeyemi Ikuforiji, promptly, set up an Ad-hoc Committee, headed by Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Dr. Ajibayo Adeyeye, to investigate the matter and report back to the House with the view of resolving it and bringing perpetrators to book.
The committee, later convened a stakeholders’ meeting, that comprised of representatives of Women Arise for Change Initiative, led by Odumakin herself; civil society groups; the Police; Community Development Committee, CDC, Ejigbo branch; representatives of Ejigbo LCDA; market leaders in Ejigbo, amongst others.
Also present at the meeting was Hon. Adefunmilayo Tejuosho, Hon. Olumuyiwa Jimoh and Hon. Segun Olulade.
Adeyeye, during the stakeholders meeting, described the incident as “unacceptable and barbaric”
At the end of the meeting, the State House of Assembly, announced a million naira cash reward for the committee and N250, 000 to anyone who could give a lead and vital information to the committee on the two women who were assaulted in Ejigbo area of Lagos.
“Nobody is here to witch-hunt or castigate anyone but how to unravel the mystery. Anybody that gives information that leads to the arrest of the perpetrators of the heinous act shall be given N1million and personally I will give the sum of N250,000 from my own pocket.” Adeyeye promised.
After weeks of painstaking investigation in collaboration with Ejigbo council, led by Chairman Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan,, Oba Moruf Ojoola, Ojon of Ejigbo, (traditional ruler), chairmen of Community Development Areas, CDAs, market leaders, youth groups, the suspects were last weekend, apprehended and later handed over to the police for further prosecution.
Before, the arrest, it was learnt that the state police command in order to show seriousness on the issue, redeployed the Divisional Police Office, DPO, in the area and posted a new officer with the mandate to produce the culprits for prosecution.
The issue also generated a lot of heat in the community as tension grew over the whereabout of the suspects. Nobody seemed to be coming up with useful information.
As part of measures to quicken the arrest of the suspects, Iyana- Ejigbo Central Market, the market where the crime was committed, was subsequently, shut down indefinitely. With the effort of the traditional ruler and leadership of CDAs, a number of suspects were caught and later turned in to the police.
After initial interrogation by the police, the innocents were let go while the police zeroed down on the prime suspects. They are currently in the custody of the Federal police for thorough investigations before prosecution proper.
The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, had also stepped into the issue when he ordered force headquarters to take over investigations into the assault.
Consequently, crack detectives from the Force Criminal Investigations Department have been deployed from Force Annex to commence fresh investigation into the ugly incident.
Confirming the IG’s directive in a statement, Force Public Relations Officer, CSP Frank Mba said: “In a decisive resolve geared towards ensuring the speedy delivery of justice, promoting the rule of law, discouraging impunity and defending the fundamental human rights of Nigerians, particularly the alleged victims of the Ejigbo pepper torture, the IGP, MD Abubakar, has ordered an immediate takeover of the case.
“Also, all suspect(s) and all exhibits related to the matter are to be taken over from the Lagos State Police Command by a crack team of detectives from the Federal SARS, (Lagos Annex), Force Criminal Investigation Department.
“The IGP wishes to assure all Nigerians, especially the family of the victims and other relevant stakeholders’ that the Police will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that justice is done in the Ejigbo case.”
The IGP, therefore, called on all Nigerians to continually partner with the Nigeria Police, particularly in the area of providing relevant information, with a promise to protect the confidentiality of all informants and whistleblowers at all times.
The IGP also commended the media, members of the human rights community, and all members of the public whose patriotism, advocacy and concern led to the exposure of the atrocious crime.
“Their constructive partnership with the Police has had a salutary effect on the ongoing investigation so far.” the IGP stated.
Similarly, worried by the ugly incident and with determination to get justice, National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, also, said it would leave no stone unturned in ensuring that all persons involved in the alleged torture of the two woman were made to account for their actions.
The Executive Secretary of NHRC, Professor Ben Angwe, through the Chief Press Officer, Mrs. Fatimah Muhammad, confirmed that the commission had also stepped into the matter, hence, was expecting a report on the investigations going on in order to ensure the enforcement of the rights of the victims.
According to Angwe, the commission will “invoke its full powers in ensuring that those who perpetrated the dastardly act are brought to justice,” adding that the commission under its mandate “will not only bark, but bite at those who take interest in violating the rights of others.”
He said that the Lagos State office of the commission, had been directed to work with the police and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that the matter was properly and promptly investigated and alleged culprits prosecuted.
Also, the Lagos State House of Assembly had directed the state Ministry of Justice, Office of the Public Defender, OPD, to take over the case. This came even as the House fulfilled its promise of a N1.25million reward to individuals, who provide information that would lead to apprehension of culprits involved in the assault.
The Speaker of Lagos Assembly, Mr. Adeyemi Ikuforiji at the presentation of the N1.25million reward money to the deserving informants, directed that the case be immediately handed over to OPD, specifically, to be handled by the Director, Mrs. Omotola Rotimi. He condemned the assault, saying, “it is ungodly and dehumanising. In fact, I could not believe that such dastardly act happened in our own Lagos, especially in the 21st century.
“The Lagos State House of Assembly will do everything within its power to defend the human rights of citizens as stipulated in 1999 Constitution as amended. “No Nigerian, no matter his offence deserves to be treated in this manner. This is Lagos, the centre of Excellence, we will not condone any act of man in-humanity to man,” he stated.
He commended the civil society organisations, especially Dr Odumakin’s Women Arise For Change Initiative, Oba Moruf Ojoola, Ojon of Ejigbo, the Nigerian Police and Lagosians for their effort in fishing out the culprits.
To the victims, Ikuforiji said, “I pray to God to help calm you and give you a renewed life”. The N1.25m was shared between three parties who were involved in informing the House. The Civil Society Organization N500, 000, the family affected N500, 000 and the Oba N250,000.
However, Odumakin while reacting to the latest development, stressed that the Lagos State House of Assembly had restored the confidence in the people because “the House has done the needful by dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the‘t’s so that those who carried out this stone act were apprehended.
She pleaded that justice delayed is justice denied, that the House should ensure that justice is carried out to the latter.”
Odumakin reiterated that with the House achievement on this case so far, “All hope is not lost, justice belongs to all of us; not only the rich or the middle class in the society”.
Ejigbo LCDA boss, Bamigbetan, in his reaction stated: “The first time I watched the video clip on December 3, I spent two minutes watching it, and during the second time, on December 7, 2013, I watched the full clip of eight minutes, two seconds, and I felt seriously sad about the inhuman treatment melted out to the two women, just because they were alleged to have stolen pepper.
“I took special interest in the incident, after I established that the barbaric act took place in the local government, where I am the chief security officer,” Bamigbetan stated
He explained that thereafter, he launched a private investigation on the incident, meeting with many stakeholders in the council, trying to find out from them if they have knowledge of the incident, but to his surprise, all of them denied having knowledge of the incident.
“Further investigation led me to a leader of a vigilante body in the locality who confirmed to me that the incident actually took place in Ejigbo, but the men who tortured the women have been identified and their vigilante body disbanded.”
The council boss added that he had furnished the Divisional Police Officer, of Ejigbo police station with all the necessary information at his disposal, to help him and his men in their investigation.
“The first time I watched the video clip on December 3, I spent two minutes watching it, and during the second time, on December 7, 2013, I watched the full clip of eight minutes, two seconds, and I felt seriously sad about the inhuman treatment meted out to the two women, just because they were alleged to have stolen pepper.
“I took special interest in the incident, after I established that the barbaric act took place in the local government, where am the chief security officer.”
While responding on the ability of police to prosecute the matter justly, Odumakin stated: “Well, it is too early to doubt the Police ability to prosecute the case well. For now, I want to give the Police the benefit of doubt on this matter and believe that they will prosecute the case well.”
However, the case is already popular among Nigerians even Nigerians in Diaspora, so we are all going to monitor the proceedings and update ourselves.
We must all monitor the case – the media; the CSOs and all stakeholders must follow on the case and blow the whistle if we notice any ‘smart’ practice. We must all ensure that justice is done.
As for OPD, I have no doubt that the victims are in safe hands and I am also sure that by the time the trial of the culprits starts fully – OPD will be a reliable institution that can follow-up on the matter and ensure justice is done.
Women Arise will also not rest on her oars, the matter has just started and we are going to follow it through to the very end- we would keep a time to time update on the matter, we would also ensure that the court proceeding is not hidden from Nigerians.
Speaking on the motive of the organisation, she said: “It is the way and manner the women were dehumanized, brutalized and assaulted that motivated me, and more so my organization because one of the mandate of Women Arise is zero tolerance for any form of violence against women and girls in Nigeria. I decided to pursue this case because injustice to one is injustice to all and we must not keep quiet in the face of tyranny and oppression.
The need to build a plural society where the rights of every human person are respected irrespective of sex, age, status is what motivates me to whatever I am doing.
On her advice to
governments, residents and women in particular on assault and other inhuman acts in the society, she stated: “ My candid advice to residents and women in particular is that they should always be observant, they should be conscious of their surroundings and be quick to report any act of violence against anyone. Residents must be ready to work together to restrict any form of violence.
“Government on their part need to re-double efforts on securing our communities, there must be proper community policing and the activities of local securities and ethnic militias need to be regulated by government.
“Government must also initiate policies that eradicate jungle justice and curb all forms of violation against women and girls.”
Meanwhile, at Ejigbo, the atmosphere has been one of indifference. The market, which was once closed down following the incident is bubbling again. Though, the residents are afraid to comment on the incident, it has been gathered that the family of the victims has deserted their apartment.